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Tag: Eastercon

Four days of SF at Eastercon, Part 2

This blog post is a follow up to part 1, where my general attitude to the con is explained. This one covers the various con events that I went to…

Friday

George R R Martin Reading

I missed the Death of the internet (tweets at 11) panel, so milled about in the atrium for a while until the reading began and then ducked in for a George R R Martin reading. What I expected to be an oscure short story reading (saving the good stuff for later in the con) turned out to be two chapters from “The Winds of Winter”, the upcoming next book in “A Song of Ice and Fire”.

So I stayed glued to my seat for the whole time, listening intently. He has a remarkably mobile face, too… which is awesome when it comes to reading expressions to help separate a voice from background noise. It really helped!

Pushing the boundaries of genre

Next up was a panel on pushing the boundaries of Genre. This one was a bit dominated by one panelist – Sophia McDougall, but I didn’t mind… she was clearly nervous but managed to be eloquent and clear all the same. The panel held my attention for the duration, but I must confess that I can now recall very little of the actual content! That should be put down to my ailing brainpan rather than the lack of anything worth remembering.

I do recall an inclination to try out Ms. McDougall’s work at some point when my reading mojo has returned, though. The author’s managed to sell me on it where the marketing had failed to do so.

Archery in fantasy TV and film

Next, I planned to go to “How mobile phone technology can enhance the con going experience”, but decided against it in the end. I thought it was too likely to be a case of “teaching eggwhite to suck eggs”… all too icky and incestuous for me. So I went to an archery talk instead.

This was an interesting one, and explained something I’d never been entirely clear about before – how the fletchings get past the bow when an arrow is loosed. Now I know, and (as demonstrated by a video clip) so does a certain CGI animation studio. My desire to see one of their upcoming films has grown even more.

Opening Ceremony

This actually kept things surprisingly brief, which was nice. I have a recollection of it taking longer and being a bit dull in the past, but went along in case of any interesting announcements. It turned out to be quite quick, introduced everyone and then turfed us all out to the atrium.

It Came From the 1970s

Alas, this panel was slightly spoiled for me by the moderator needing moderation himself. Whilst he was clearly knowledgeable, he didn’t seem overly keen on letting anybody else get a word in edgewise… when the moderator keeps cutting off the panelists and audience questions, that’s not a good sign. I’ll probably avoid panels he’s moderating in future, but will still attend ones where he’s a panelist because he clearly knows his stuff.

What is “I”?

Since I have a professional and personal interest in what “identity” means to people and how it gets represented, this one was quite interesting for me. Unfortunately, it stayed on the fairly metaphysical and neurological angles about where the “self” resides before I had to duck out early due to a room-mate having key issues and needing to get into our room. They’d said they’d touch on “identity” later, but if they did, it was after I’d had to flee into the night. Or the corridor, anyway.

Geoengineering to save the planet

I wasn’t sure what to make of this panel. There was interesting stuff in there, but it was too focussed on the “yay/boo” side of “we could try things but we might fuck it up” and the associated politics. The “should we?” and “political reasons not to” dominated. There was a lot of “what should we do?” rather than “what could we do?”. That holds less interest to me.

The SF video game canon

Or “Fans shouting out the names of games they like”. Actually, there was more to it than that, and the panel were consistently interesting, but when I look back at it, that’s how I’d have to characterise it. Naturally, I seconded a mention of the System Shock series – they thoroughly deserve to be in there.

Where have all the hippies gone?

The description for this panel made it sound like it was going to be quite a fun one, but it got derailed into deadly serious stuff about class struggle and disenfranchisement before the moderator had even arrived and never quite recovered. Which was a shame. The discussion was interesting and worthy (if argumentative) but I’d actually been quite looking forward to a light-hearted take on it. This actually happened on a lot of the lighter-sounding panels I went to… things that sounded fun got dragged down into deadly serious politics. That they can be dragged down like that means they’re relevant, but the fact that all of them seemed to be was actually a bit of a downer.

Saturday

Cory Doctorow reading

I’d planned on going to “The Ethics of AI”, but I decided I wasn’t awake enough for anything with “ethics” in the title… and I’d probably have just got annoyed by it anyway. As somebody who used to do R&D in an artificial intelligence field, that kind of thing happens a lot. To my mind, most of what leaps into people’s heads when they think of AI is what I’d just call “Intelligence”.

How pseudo do you like your medieval?

I’ll be honest… I have no recollection of this panel whatsoever. The only clues thatI was there at all are that a) I remember skipping out of it to sign up for the Masquerade and b) I have a photo from it.

Masquerade Signup

We were a bit 11th hour with this one, as there was some holdup or another that delayed Beth getting to the signup. She arrived just as the signup session was finishing. But then, so did about four other people… one of whom turned out to be somebody she kind-of knew… which lead to us chatting for a while. Having done that, we went and got the rest of the costume bits from the car and got them all sorted… then grabbed some food before returning to the con.

Mainstream Published SF

This was an interesting one. I grabbed a couple of book recommendations, not least of which was “The Gone Away World”, which seemed to come up in every other sentence. This continued referencing seemed to be the cause of growing embarrassment to the author (Nick Harkaway – http://www.nickharkaway.com/). I also heard the phrase “SF cooties” often enough that it seems to have become a thing.

Shorts from Sci-Fi London

I was in the mood for some video, and at a previous eastercon I’d been introduced to the wonderful “Le Menace Vient De L’Espace”… so I thought I’d go along for the shorts programme. I was very glad I did, and will be trying to catch some of them at Sci-Fi London at the BFI later in the year. In particular, I need to make sure certain friends see “Doctor Glamour”.

Masquerade-y bits & off into the evening

After the shorts, I took a break a very brief rest before heading over to the masquerade rehearsal. The rehearsal itself took a while to get going, and like most tech rehearsals, it was basically “you wait here until your turn, then you go on stage here, do your thing, then leave the stage here.”

There was a bit of a faff about a few bits and bobs whilst the rehearsal was going on, but otherwise it was uneventful except for letting us see who the other masquerade participants were. Most of the rehearsal was focussed on dealing with the chap who eventually won… because his costume was huge and slightly less than mobile. But it was also awesome, which made it entirely forgivable.

In general, I enjoyed the masquerade as a way to meet folks and found it a lot less stressful than I had expected. With hinds
ight, we probably should have spent 10-15 minutes in the atrium in costume afterwards, but after a couple of hours in those things we were both keen to get changed. I spent the rest of the evening hanging around in the atrium with a pint and a burger, chatting to Peter Westhead (who came 3rd, having made his own peascod breastplate!), Tim and Severine M. As a general shout-out, whilst we were backstage I spent a bit of time chatting with sacha (who, as GLADoS, had similarly restricted peripheral vision) and Nicky Barnard and the assorted workmanship judges.

The judges were keen to talk to us afterwards to congratulate us about our use of “mixed media” as well… Which struck me as a little odd, as I don’t think of things in that way… I just make stuff! Doesn’t matter what it’s made of. In my brain, a sewing machine is as much as power tool as a pillar drill and a soldering iron as much a precision tool as a paintbrush or needle and thread. The idea of treating them differently just doesn’t really occur to me.

Sunday

Occupy the metaverse

This panel bugged me a little, as it didn’t seem to really match the description in the program. Also, given the subject matter that dominated the first 15 minutes, I felt that the panel really needed a younger voice on it… but that’s not the fault of the panelists. There’s not a lot they can do about their age and social circumstances. Having said that, those first 15 minutes really did come across as “Young people! You’re doing it wrong!”, and I’d have liked to hear a bit more from the moderator himself on that one.

George RR Martin Interview

I lurked about being social for a while, and then went back into the main hall for the George R R Martin Guest of Honour Interview… which I found thoroughly enjoyable. As with his reading, he speaks well… and I quite like the interview format for guest of honour talks as it gives them a bit of structure.

Sci-Fi London sneak preview

I wasn’t feeling very awake, so I decided to go and do something different… and went to a super-sekrit preview screening of one of the films that’s getting a proper international preview at Sci-Fi London. To be honest, whilst I quite enjoyed the film I also found it a bit predictable and a little mawkish… but as a small indie film, I really couldn’t fault the cast or the production. It may have been better if I hadn’t guessed where it was going with it early on.

Cruel deeds and dreadful calamities

This was an annotated slideshow of illustrations and cover artwork from a victorian era (I think) publication called the “Illustrated Police News”, which is famous as basically containing virtually no news that wasn’t made up and being largely unrelated to the police in any way. Essentially, it was the start of tabloid journalism… but it’s character was quite different to what we have now. It was an entertaining slideshow, but I was surprised that it was in the main hall.

Taking Liberties with the Lady of the Lake

This one was a bit of a risk for me, as it had been billed as two things. First was a “Merlin TV Series” vs “Camelot TV series” panel, which held no interest to me. The second thing was a wider discussion around representation of myths in popular entertainment. The second was touched on a little, but alas the Merlin vs Camelot thing dominated.

Tall Technical Tales

I wasn’t sure about this, having stepped away from the science side of my education a long time ago to focus on the engineering and the creative… but I’m thoroughly glad that I went along. Highly entertaining anecdotes from all around, several of which reminded me of a series of blog posts I found a while back – which I’m going to assume that most of the panelists are already aware of, but if they’re not, they should be. There are other categories on the same blog that would be relevant too, but I can’t find them right now.

Multicultural Steampunk

I’d been looking forward to this one, as there have been many things that bug me about steampunk for a while… this touched on some of those, whilst mentioning and stepping past others (colonial india got a mention, as did the boxer rebellion). A couple didn’t come up at all, despite having some current day parallels that could be explored (the assortment of anglo-afghan wars, for example).

Monday

I never really woke up on Monday, alas, despite an early night on Sunday. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that when I’m tired, I’m basically useless, and Monday was like that. I was flagging a bit from the start, and so didn’t do much. However, I did do *some*.

Story arcs

This was a nice idea, but it did seem to devolve into another “shout out TV shows I like” panel. Without a working definition (which people would be free to disagree with, of course) of a story arc to frame the discussion, it rambled and meandered. Lots of times the “it’s got character story arcs” vs “character arcs aren’t story arcs” divide came up.

Coming from a LARP running background, my take is that plot progression and character progression are both aspects of story arc… but that the definition of an arc is that it goes up and then it comes down again. I don’t think you can have a complete story arc without a planned duration (the time axis) and without time spent bringing the threads together. Just throwing in more and more stuff doesn’t make an arc – you need to bring things together and tie them up as well. Oherwise you don’t have a complete arc.

Somebody mentioned that unresolved sexual tension (or “USTing”, as I’ve heard it referred to as) isn’t a story arc, but is instead story statis… and I think they nailed it. That’s adding to the rise of the arc, but by never resolving it, it doesn’t bring the arc back down again… it just leaves it hanging. I think that where the exemplars of story arc (The Shield, The Wire and Babylon 5) really score their points are on their respective downward story trajectories. They all bring things to a close and pull things together. You get payoffs down the line that make it all work out. Shows where they have no planned duration keep adding to the buildup, but always defer the payoffs… and often defer them for too long.

Bloody Provincials! (local fan groups)

I’m in a local fan group, so I felt I had to. Well, sort of in one, anyway… I’m more a sort of lingering carbuncle on the side of a local student SF society, but there’s a few of us carbuncles lingering there. The society doesn’t seem to mind too much… in fact, there were five such carbuncles (although two were still quite fresh) at this con!

I did come away with a few ideas that I’ll suggest to the society, though. I also came away with the idea of trying (once again) to visit The Tun – the london SF pub meet which infamously doesn’t happen in the pub of that name. There’s also another mob, to be found on facebook.

Can video games tell a good story?

Yes. Next question?

The part of this panel that stood a chance of keeping me awake in a dim, stuffy room was about that long. After that I decided I needed more light to remain conscious, so headed out to the atrium to talk to my sibling before he departed. The panel wasn’t bad, by the way – I was just fighting against fatigue.

Epic Legends of the Hierarchs (Writing a long series)

Interesting, but marred by not actually being able to see the speakers from the back of the room. It was my inability to stay focussed on this panel that lead to me fleeing to the atrium again for more daylight.

Fleeing!

The increased natural light helped, and woke me up enough that I felt safe enough to drive home. After a bit of family interaction with Gav, Cal and the ki
ds, it was time to call it a day. I waited in the bright and airy atrium for Chris and (eventually) Beth to reappear, and that was that. There were panels I’d have liked to go to later, but my brain was gone and I needed to go home and crash.

Thus ended this year’s Eastercon for me. Next time I go to an eastercon (or another con of similar size) I should finally be back to firing on all physical and mental cylinders, which will be good. I’m alredy looking forward to it!

Four days of SF at Eastercon, Part 1

Pre-Convention Decisions

I’d decided, before attending this con, that I was going to do some things a bit differently this time around. I’d also decided that there was stuff I wasn’t going to let bother me. As it panned out, I did do some things a bit differently, but not all that I’d planned. I also, for the most part, managed to avoid being bothered by the potentially bothersome things.

On the “things to do differently” side of the fence, I’d planned on the following:

  • Be less of a slave to programme items.
  • Play it by ear instead of scheduling all of my time.
  • Get involved with more fannish things.
  • Don’t do tech.
  • Volunteer as a gopher or for the green room.

On the “things to avoid being bothered by” front:

  • Attending and sharing a room with my ex-girlfriend, and the assumptions that would lead to from other congoers.
  • Nerves, shyness and introversion.
  • The inevitable mood-crashes as a result of lingering recovery issues (I’ll explain briefly later, for the uninitiated).
  • The inevitable brain-failures as a result of lingering recovery issues (See above).
  • My regrettable “out of touch-ness” with current SF literature (brief explanation later, etc…)

But just listing these doesn’t quite cut it, so I’ll explain in a bit more detail

Be less of a slave to programme items

Every time I’ve been to an Eastercon, I’ve seen all the awesome and on the programme and have ended up bouncing from one program item to the next. Which is all good, but it does have downsides. Everyone I know who’s been to a lot of cons says that it’s not the programme that makes the con, but the socialising that goes on around it and the catching up with folks you know from previous cons. If you’re in panels the whole time, you don’t get the chance to meet with anybody new or make the connections that everyone says the cons are about.

This is one that I managed, just about. I spent more time out of panels and chatting with folks, but still didn’t get much by way of an “I’ll speak to these people again” vibe, except for a few folks around the masquerade… more of which later!

Play it by ear instead of scheduling all of my time

I absolutely managed this one. I started out planning which programme items I’d be interested in, but in the end I made my decisions a lot based on where I was and what I felt like at the time. Did I miss some good panels? Absolutely. But did I go to some that I might not otherwise have thought of, and learn new things as a result? Certainly. I have developed a bit of a liking for a fairly random approach to these things as a result of going to a couple of BarCamps over the past few years. I’d like to go to more… in fact, I’d love it if there was an SF unconference I could go to, although I have no idea what I’d speak about. Then again, that’s half the fun of unconferences – nobody knows what to speak about and everybody’s winging it.

If I can stand up and hold a room’s attention for 20 minutes with some doodles and a stream of consciousness ramble about a topic I know passably well, then anybody can do it.

Get involved in more fannish things

First, I’d better explain what I mean by “fannish things”. There are a bunch of arcane conventions that SF fandom has built up over the years, and (as far as I can tell) the only way to get to grips with them is to throw yourself in. So I went to a few more panels where the people at the front were just other fans, talking about being fans or about topics they knew and understood. I’ve always been able to listen to people talking about things they know and are passionate about, and it usually doesn’t matter what the thing is – I just like seeing the passion and enthusiasm that comes with it.

As well as that, there are con staples that have been going on for years that I’ve generally not got involved with as they were “not my thing”. This time, though, I was there with my ex-girlfriend. We’d booked two years previously, whilst still together, and are still friends.

Beth is a bit of a costume nut, and I wanted to make sure she still enjoyed the con, despite any awkwardness. We’d agreed before that we’d take some costume that had originally been made for a LARP, but which had barely been used due to players killing the NPCs the costumes were for from a distance. For the few days before, Beth had been basically recreating most of the cloth parts of the costumes, and I’d been reworking a lot of the non-cloth bits and the electronics.

The plan was to wear it for an hour or two as “hall costume” on saturday night, which basically means wandering around in the costume… but it wasn’t exactly “walking around & socialising” gear. I can hardly breathe in mine. Neither of us can talk, and I can’t hear as it covers my ears with neoprene. Neither of us can sit down sensibly either. So we decided, at the eleventh hour, to do the masquerade instead. It was a bit panicky, as part of Beth’s costume kept breaking and I wasn’t sure if the batteries in mine would survive. Because we decided to enter at the last minute, we also didn’t have any “presentation” planned, and that’s one of the categories you get graded on if you’re going for prizes. I wasn’t actually after prizes, though, so I didn’t mind. We were well recieved all the same.

But, getting involved in the masquerade did lead to me actually meeting a few folks (helped by the fact that Beth kind of knew one of the other participants anyway) and having a few folks around to chat to when we bumped into them later on in the con.

I’m actually vaguely inclined to do such things again at future cons. In a fit of ignoring traditional gender roles, I can actually use a sewing machine pretty well and know a bit about how to put a costume together… as well as knowing my way around the use of workshop tools and electronics. The masquerade seems like it’s actually a pretty decent way to meet folks. If for no other reason than having to spend an hour or two backstage in an enclosed space with the rest of the participants!

Don’t do tech

This one isn’t actually a new one. I took this approach two years ago as well, and it served me pretty well. The first eastercon I went to, I was a tech volunteer. Because I actually know a fair bit about stage lighting, I ended up getting stuck in tech and spent a lot of time on the top of the tower at the back of the main hall. First, I find that kind of thing to be both fun and stressful. I was trying to avoid stress, so I had to avoid tech. Second, I found that whilst a tech volunteer, I missed too much of the rest of the con… and because everyone doing tech is so busy, I didn’t really get to know anybody else who was doing it.

Volunteer as a gopher / in the green room

I failed utterly at this one. No excuses – I just didn’t find the time. I didn’t let that failure bother me too much, though. Next time, maybe.

Things to not be bothered by…

I mostly managed these. Sharing a room with Beth turned out to not be too awkward, although I do get the feeling we were getting tarred with the “couple” brush a fair bit. Still, it’s not like I was there to pull (“going on the pull” is alien to me – it’s not how my brain works).

As for nerves, shyness and introversion… well, they were out in full force, but I think I did okay with them. I dealt with introversion by taking quiet time every once in a while to recharge and recover before I broke myself. I dealt with shyness by occasionally just deciding to go for it and talk to people anyway. I didnt do that very often, but I did do it… which is progress. As for nerves? Well, I’m not sure how I dealt with those… but I seem to have managed it. I even spoke up in a panel item or two.

The rest of the “things not to be bothered by” all go hand in hand, and re
late to my not being in a very good state at this time last year, and still only being about 80% recovered. To cut a long story short, about a year and a half ago, I suffered very badly from stress and an extreme case of chronic insomnia. Coupled with pre-existing (and finally diagnosed) Seasonal Affective Disorder and a particularly stressful time in my life, my body and brain basically declared “Enough! You are stopping now!” by effectively killing my ability to function as a human being for a couple of months. I’m mostly recovered, but a couple of symptoms remain:

First, I have no reserves. I go straight from wide awake and active to falling over and unable to string a sentence together. I do not pass go. I do not collect

Eastercon Trepidation

Eastercon makes me nervous. I’ve been to a couple of them now, and I always enjoy my time encapsulated in the fannish bubble universe… but that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous about my time there. What I’d like to do here is to write a little about my trepidations, partly to just get them out there, and partly to seek advice and maybe gain some pre-con connections to follow up on whilst I’m there.

My fannish & congoing history

By many measures, I started going to Eastercons fairly late in life. There were no university societies on my campus when I was a student. They were all on the main campus, and were basically unreachable without a car as the public transport curfew for a return journey was at about 8.30pm. On top of that, from what I’ve heard, the SF society was of the “three people in a bedroom talking about Pterry” variety. I found a couple of fellow geeks on my own campus, and managed to get to know a few of them, but we were muddling through and knew nothing of cons.

But I wasn’t devoid of fandom. I got to know a lot of lovely people through being actively involved in the Tad Williams Mailing List (which existed before the Shadowmarch site came about) and went to (and hosted) a few TadMoots. But those were small and ad-hoc internet meetups. Cons were still strange and mysterious things to me.

A bit later still, after some encouragement from one of the tadlisters and with the accompaniment of my then-partner-now-friend Linette, I bit the bullet and invaded the university next door. They had an SF society. By this point I was a postgrad, and outside of the usual student social structures, so that was a very good thing. But it leads on to my current situation…

The problem?

The problem with meeting most of your fannish and geeky contacts through a student society is that they’re generally of a fixed age bracket… it’s always people of student age – predominantly 18 to 21, with a few postgrads. There comes a time where staying too involved with that group starts feeling a bit creepy. Similarly, most of the student crowd disappear every few years. The result is that my social circle is losing people to attrition as they move away, but not gaining as many through new folks arriving.

Part of why I like the idea of Cons is that I get to socialise with a whole new crowd and maybe meet some new folks. The problem is that in a loud, busy social environment, I suck at these things. Just walking up to a random person and starting to talk to them feels like an imposition, and when random people come up to me and start talking, I get that “rabbit in headlights” feeling and my brain starts reciting a mantra of “AAAAAAGH! New people! Don’t fuck up! Don’t fuck up! DON’T GET IT WRONG!” that’s so loud and recurring that it drowns out the actual conversation and I end up rambling or babbling somehow. I am my own worst enemy.

The other problem?

The other problem isn’t really a problem, but it makes me a bit nervous all the same… I’m attending (and sharing a twin room) with a friend of mine who used to be my ex. We’re still close friends, but I’m keen to not be seen as a gestalt entity with her. Whilst I’m not going to the con with the intention of pulling (that would be crass), I’m slightly wary of us falling into old routines and basically spending the con as a two-person unit. But it’s also only her second Eastercon (and her first as a full 4 day attendee) and I want her to enjoy it too.

I’m hoping that the more crafty / creative crowd will take her under their wing and that she’ll enjoy herself as an attendee in her own right. She’ll be dealing with a bit of similar weirdness on that front, I suspect.

Social Props

One of my common social props is my camera, so that if talking isn’t happening (such as if I bottle it in a busy room) I can put a camera in front of my face and hide myself. Or, what I usually prefer it to be is a reason to start talking to people. But even the question “do you mind if I take a photo with you in it?” requires social interaction. I love being able to take good photos of people, but cameras also make people nervous and scare them off.

So, for any Eastercon folks who read this… if you see me with a camera, and you’d prefer I didn’t point it at you, feel free to talk to me and tell me so! The camera will still have served its function as a social prop in that instance. I know there are labels that can be put on folks badges, but those aren’t always visible, so accidents will happen. I’m happy to delete stuff, and being asked nicely to do so isn’t a problem.

Volunteering

I have previously done a bit of tech volunteering at Eastercon, but I’ve decided I’m not going to do that this year. Tech is always stressful, and I’ve backed away from all of my other tech commitments except for the comedy nights for exactly that reason. I’m keeping my technical hand in, but not doing much that’s new. I’ve toyed with other volunteering, but don’t really know what’s what… and want to avoid too much stress, so I’m probably going to give it a miss this time.

Next time I might put myself down to help with green room, gophering or some of the at-con publicity (newsletters, etc…) but I don’t really know what I’m doing with that kind of thing. If there was an active social network back-channel, I might be tempted to volunteer in some capacity that relates to that kind of thing.

Path of Least Resistance

As mentioned earlier, I’m a bit rubbish at actually talking to new people. Once I get started, I’m usually okay… but it’s getting started that’s the problem. I’m an introvert and I’m frequently quite shy (which isn’t the same thing).

For me, the path of least resistance is usually to go to programme items and be a passive listener. This is still good and enjoyable, but I can’t help but feel that I’m missing out on the real con experience. I’d prefer to get to know people as I do that, and to get to know a few more people who go to these things.

The Negative Bit

I’ve generally found my con experience to be a little disappointing. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed them, though. It’s more that I’ve generally had the feeling that those who turn up in a group or already knowing a bunch of folks enjoy them more. Being at a con where you already know more of the other attendees just seems to be more fun. The conventional wisdom is that you meet people socially outside the program items, and that the con experience then starts to become more about the people you meet.

In my experience, the outside-the-programme atmosphere has generally been fairly cliquey. Which is fine – that’s what happens when folks use the con to catch up with old friends. But it’s hard to do the “catching up with old Eastercon buddies” thing if you never manage to make them in the first place.

I’m forever told that a large part of the Eastercon vibe is to be found in the bars. That’s nice, but a) I can’t physically fit in the bars as they’re full of long established eastercon attendees catching up with their mates. If you don’t know anybody else in there, it’s a socially hostile environment and b) I barely drink these days, and a human being can only contain so much lemonade or fruit juice without unfortunate digestive disturbances.

In short, to spend time in a bar at Eastercon you need backup. Preferably experienced and established backup. Whilst my elder sibling probably counts as experienced backup, he’s also got two kids to look after and his own Eastercon social circle to catch up with.

I’ve enticed several people into attending in the past through IFIS, but bringing along folks I already know doesn’t help a great deal with finding new folks. I’ve steadfastly failed to actually make new connections at the event.

Online backchannel?

One of the things that helps me with this
kind of thing at professional tech conferences and barcamps is the use of an online backchannel. An offical hashtag and a means to burble to strangers over the web from inside program items is a great help – it means you can start talking to people before the difficult face-to-face meetup. There seem to be some moves towards this kind of thing this time around, which is good.

The official hashtag seems to be #eastercon, by the way, and I’m on twitter as @the_eggwhite.

Hopefully I’ll get to chat to a few folks this time around and be a bit more sociable. If you’re in the same boat, feel free to ping me. Hopefully we’ll be able to fit in some kind of “tweetup” over the weekend, if there’s not one already scheduled. I’d suggest an impromptu one each day, rather than just one… then we can get the day visitors and folks who were busy as well.

Odyssey 2010 – Day 4

Morning…

Breakfast & Checkout

The morning of this fourth and final day of Eastercon began slowly for me. Leaving the hotel and returning the previous night had knocked me for six and had somehow broken the “can just keep going” spell… and my body was now declining to cooperate. However, I needed my breakfast and had to be checked out of the hotel by 11am, so I forced myself through a quick shower and on down to the dining room.

I didn’t manage to consume as much breakfast this time – after three days of gluttonous consumption of fried breakfasts, I think my guts had decided enough was enough, and made me stop at just a small plate of fry-up and a bowl of fruit.

Checking out was also uneventful, but did include the slight juggling act of going and cramming my stuff into my car, and also meeting up with ChrisT (who was staying in a different hotel) so he could cram his stuff into my car as well as I was giving him a lift home.

Turning Manga & Anime Into Live Action – Does It Work?

Panel: Dan, James Swallow, Kat Takenaka, Gaspode (Moderator)

This was another of those rambling “we’re deliberately not sticking entirely to the topic” panels – largely as the topic as written was really quite narrow. Instead they went on to any kind of adaptation or conversion of anime and manga – including dubbing and subtitles. I think this gambit worked, as it meant the panel stayed interesting throughout, where otherwise it might have flagged somewhat.

Humour in SF and Fantasy

Panel: Raven Dane, Esther Friesner, John Coxon (moderator), Donna Scott, Jonny Nexus

I’ve met Jonny Nexus a couple of times through some local gaming cons a long time ago… one of which I accidentally ended up co-running (really was an accident – I volunteered to help on the desk and ended up co-running it). He gave that particular con the friendliest and most well deserved bad review I’ve ever encountered. I also keep seeing John Coxon’s name and face at all kinds of things that I turn up to… although I have no real idea why. Maybe we’re inadvertently stalking each other or something. It’s the peril of gamers and SF fans who are also in some way computer / gadget geeks. I’ve also got a nagging “have I met you before?” feeling about Donna Scott – but again – no idea why. Esther Freisner, I remember reading one of her books a long time ago (“Here Be Demons”, I think)… Raven Dane was the only person who was undoubtedly new to me.

The discussion covered topics such as the difference between fiction with humour in and comic fiction. In one case you inject humour into a story and that humour is secondary to the story, in the other case you take the humour and make the story secondary, fitting it around a series of gags or sketches. Examples of the latter were early Pratchett and the Hitchhiker’s books. Examples of the former were the later Pratchett books.

There was also a discussion about how it’s hard to break into comic SF and Fantasy as the market is seen as being “full”, with about 90% taken up with Pratchett and the other established authors scrabbling for the remaining 10%. The point was raised about Pterry’s writing slowing, and the possibility of a gap opening, but that was countered by the fact that Douglas Adams has sold more since he died than he ever did whilst he was alive. It was also suggested that the market being “full” is probably also nonsense anyway – it’s just trhat publishers and marketers aren’t prepared to put money behind growing the market… which I think is probably closer to the truth.

Afternoon

Old Time Radio Club: Operation Tomorrow

I’ve always been a fan of live performance audio drama, and the idea of retro-style SF presented in this manner was greatly appealing. So I went along to this, which was a fantastic performance of a time-travel story where a scientist is sent into the future to bring back news about any catastrophes that should be avoided. It reminded me very much of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, and was highly entertaining to watch. It’s amazing how many small and subtle sound effects are added in from the foley table that if you just wouldn’t notice if you weren’t paying attention… but would notice the absence of it they weren’t there!

If you get the chance to see these guys at any point, take it. They’re awesome. Their shows were sorely underattended at this Eastercon, which I think was a crying shame as I suspect a great many more folks would have appreciated them.

Old Time Radio Club: They Walk Amongst Us Here

I enjoyed the first of these so much that I stuck around for the second… which followed the crew of a spaceship landing on a planet to survey it for life, and finding that things turned sour soon after landing. Again, highly entertaining, and whilst it had some humour in it, it was played straight. Hats off to the cast for maintaining straight faces – it can’t have been easy.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for The Old Time Radio Club in future, and if I get the chance to see them again, I’ll be taking it!

Clanger Symposium: Study of a Knitted Alien Race

This was a highlight of the con for me. I went along entirely on a whim, and was so thoroughly glad I did. From 1969 to 1972, Professor Postgate recorded a series of studies of this alien race. These are the only existing records of these creatures and the events that transpired over the course of those studies.

This programme item was a series of scientific presentations in which extrapolations are drawn from the evidence in those recordings to expand scientific understanding of these beings. Initially, we had an overview of the physics and geology of the clanger homeworld, suggesting that the planet itself has a 10mm neutronium core, and a radius of around 12 metres. This produces a surface gravity of around 0.2g and a gravity of 1.6g at the bottom of the habitable range under the surface – roughly 8m down. It was explained in a later presentation that the effects of tidal forces are not visible upon the clangers themselves as they are “squishy”.

Further presentations covered the topics of ferro-poultry engineering and clanger reproduction. In the latter it was revealed that the clanger equivalant of DNA is known as KNT and contains segments which are referred to as doubledrop and purl, with end segments referred to as caston and castoff.

Overall, this was an enlightening and engaging programme item, and one that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in the works of professor Postgate.

Closing Ceremony & Departure

There’s not much that I can really say about a closing ceremony… it was the official close of the con, although programme items continued after it and well into monday night. The closing ceremony involved thanking everyone and presenting various prizes and awards… and killing all the gophers in their red shirts, of course. A fine tradition.

I stuck around for one more panel after this – “Researching Fantasy – How do you research the imaginary”, but I didn’t get any photos or notes, and I wasn’t really alive enough to remember it. There were programme items that I still wanted to get to after this – particularly a film at 8pm that I wanted to see what it might have been. Which film it was hadn’t been announced, but it was from a list that contained several interesting options, one of which I’d already seen. But that wasn’t until 8pm and I wasn’t going to be fit to drive home much longer… so I decided to draw a line under it and flee to non-hotel food and my bed.

Thus ended Odyssey 2010 for me.

Odyssey 2010 – Day 3

Morning…

A Knife! A Knife! My Kingdom for a Knife! (AKA: Breakfast)

The food was being brought out at a reasonably adeuate rate, so I was able to have the full fry-up, toast and fruit extravaganza… which, as mentioned in my saturday writeup was slightly underwhelming but still perfectly adequate. However, this time there seemed to be a distinct absence of knives. It wasn’t immedialy obvious at first due to the “pot luck cutlery” approach the hotel used – displaying the cutlery handles only, so you couldn’t see what you had until you’d pulled it out of the containing napkin to look. Annoyingly, every time you asked a member of staff for a knife, they’d nod and wander off, then later be seen bringing out more food… and no knives. Every now and then, one of them would wander over and check to see if any had miraculously appeared, and would then wander off and reappear… with no knives.

Eventually, when I was halfway through eating with just a fork, some knives did appear. I pity anybody who was sat further into the room, as I don’t think they’d made it to the breakfast buffet table before the poor chap carrying them had been swamped with people demanding cutlery. I was sat right next to the door he came in through and there were people who’d got to him before I did!

Panel: Big Biology – What are the biggest biological tropes in SF

I attempted to attend this panel, but it was heavy duty thinky stuff. At 10am. I should have known better! It sounded interesting. It probably was interesting, but my brain hadn’t finished its POST yet, let alone fully booted. I stayed about 20 minutes then quietly slipped out. I needed something to kick me to life, so I grabbed something that was a passable imitation of a cup of tea and had a bit of a chat with a few folks whilst waiting for the next item to start.

Guest of Honour Talk: Alastair Reynolds

I’d been quite looking forward to this item, as I’m something of an Alastair Reynolds fan… but the blurb in the readme did look suspiciously similar to what he’d presented at Picocon in February, so I wasn’t going to be overly worried if I missed it. As it happens, I’m reliably informed that it was quite similar, although still very interesting, but with the main difference being the addition of some technical issues.

Not really a problem for me. I was expecting to have to duck out early to go and meet Beth (t’other half) who was coming along for the day, and so had deliberately garbbed a truly sucky seat near an exit. Sure enough, just as the first round of technical issues got resolved, I got an “I’ve arrived” text message. So I pulled the ripcord and discreetly baled out of the talk to go and meet her.

Beth’s never been to an Eastercon (or anything similar) before, so we spent the rest of this slot making sure we knew what we were doing, and getting some kind of idea of where & when we’d meet up and what programme items we both wanted to go to. Beth was keen to go to a number of the less SFnal items, whilst I was keen to go to the more SFnal ones… this didn’t surprise me at all, and there was enough on that it wasn’t a problem.

Medieval Combat and Rapier Demonstration by the SCA

Beth’s a (currently slightly lapsed) re-enactor. I’m an ex-fencer and (lapsed) rubber sword LARPer. Bearing those facts in mind, we kind of had to go to this. It was interesting enough, although the blurb was a little misleading as there wasn’t much by way of rapier, which was our main interest. However, it was a good and entertaining item – it’s not often you get to see armoured people beating the hell out of each other in a wood-panelled hotel function room with chandelier lighting.

All good fun, basically.

Afternoon

Panel: Approaches to Writing – Iain M Banks & Ken Macleod

I know I went to this panel, but clearly I was caught in a temporal anomaly or somesuch, as I have no recollection of it at all beyond the fact that I was there. I also have no notes from it, and no photos, which is just plain weird.

I’m sure it was good, and it’s merely that some kind of godlike post-singularity AI has reached back and edited it out of my memories for some reason.

Pyrotechnics: And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Stephen Miller delivered an interesting and entertaining presentation (with live demonstrations) about pyrotechnics for film and TV. In the talk, he was working through a number of effects shots from the film “The Fall” (which I now want to see!)… but he started with a couple of more generic demonstrations. The first was a demonstration of why all mobiles had to be turned off – he simply set up a small explosive behind safety screens on the stage, then walked clear and turned on a phone and waited for a short time. Sure enough,a few seconds later there was a loud bang and I felt the warm trickle of somebody else’s tea or coffee down my back.

Thanks mr-guy-behind-me-in-the-audience! Actually, if mr-guy-behind-me-in-the-audience is reading this – don’t worry about it in the slightest! It only got me a little bit… it was just unexpected!

He then took us through the effects for a gunshot, then for the bullet hit. After that came fizzing fuses, and then at the end was a massive building detonation. The talk took us through all kinds of stuff, like how detonators work, how nailboards work for timing things in sequence, using a napthalene burst to add in smoke and orange flame and so on…

All good and interesting stuff that started to tempt my inner pyromaniac…

Guest of Honour Interview: Mike Carey

Despite having read much more by both Alastair Reynolds and Iain M Banks, this was the interview I’d been waiting for – partly because I’ve not read the entirity of his back catalogue – there’s enough in there that’s still new to me that it’s interesting to see where it goes.

I’ve read some of Mike Carey’s Lucifer comics, some of his run on Hellblazer, and have recently started in on both his Felix Castor novels and on his newer comic – The Unwritten. Lucifer is interesting and I’d like to read more, but it’s a way down the list. Hellblazer… well, it’s Hellblazer. Felix Castor, though… I just can’t put them down. When I pick one up and get started, I just push on through until it’s gone. The only reason I’ve not read the lot is that my local bookshop didn’t have the first three, so I’ve been having to order them!

So having Mike Carey being interviewed by Paul Cornell – where could this possibly go wrong? True enough, it didn’t. Basically, the interview was a bit of a travelogue through his catalogue of works in both comics and novels, with some discussion of TV and film in there as well. Hearing about works I’ve not come across yet – even ill-fated ones that ended before their time – has left me intrigued and wanting to find out more.

The only place it did fall down a bit was with a bit of an odd non-question at the end… after which they decided to sneak another question in despite being out of time so it could wind up with something other than a compaint about a plot point an audience member didn’t like. I think that was the right move, and left things with a good tidy ending.

Intermission

I’ve got no idea what I did for the next two hours. I think there was some atrium chatting and I made an abortive attempt to listen to the Liz Williams guest of honour interview… I’ve found Liz Williams to be a compelling speaker before – enough to turn me from not being interested in her books to having picked one up and quite liked it (and planning to read more), but this interview just left me cold. I don’t really know why – perhaps just covering ground I’d heard her speak on before, or perhaps just taking a direction in th
e interview that didn’t grab me.

In the end I basically had a two hour gap with occasional bursts of programme, before going and retrieving Beth from the calligraphy workshop she’d been attending. Once the calligraphy tools had been appropriately cleared away, we regrouped for food before setting off for the next programme item…

Evening

Harry Potter and The Half Cut Prince – A Musical

A phrase leaps to mind:

Dear God. Why. Why, God? Why?

But in all the good ways. This was a highly entertaining rehashed musical version of Harry Potter, mashed up with a bit of Doctor Who and The Rocky Horror Show. It was thoroughly improper, full of atrocious puns and worse dialogue. The songs were an exercise in lyrical torture…

In short, it was glorious. I hardly stopped laughing the whole time. Mr Ian Sorenson and your varied and occasionally unwitting cast, I salute you!

Mitch Benn

As I mentioned a short while ago, this was the second time I’d seen Mitch Benn in about 10 days. As a result, some of the act wasn’t exactly new and fresh to me, but it was still very well performed and very entertaining. Highpoints were the songs “doctor who girl” and “Mitch Benn’s Musical Version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar“… and the audience request of singing “Crap Shag” (a song he doesn’t like performing anymore) in a dalek voice. The fact that he managed it at all was frankly terrifying, and also stragely awesome.

Steampunk Ball with Ghostfire

To close out the evening, there was the Steampunk Ball – many folks dressed in steampunk finery… myself and Beth included. Although I wouldn’t call mine “finery”, as I was deliberately aiming for the “steampunk navvy” look rather than a gentleman engineer. Alas, I didn’t get many photos of folks in their costumes, but there are plenty more starting to appear out on the net already. I just didn’t want to be walking around with my camera out as it kind of spoiled the look… Unlike somebody else, who had a steampunked point and shoot digital camera, which was awesome on so many levels.

The band (Ghostfire) took some getting used to, though. Some of their music was great… some not so much. I think in some cases it was more an issue with the sound mix – in other cases it just sounded like the music and vocals didn’t quite match up. As the night progressed that seemed to all come together, though. What was annoying, though, was that their set was broken up – whenever they’d managed to get things going and got people out on the dancefloor (as usual, not including me!), they stopped for a 20 minute break. I also think they were having trouble getting that atmosphere going as the houselights were staying on the whole time… without those, or with them being dimmer, people may have been more inclined to get up and dance a bit! I may not be a dancer myself (more a “falling over in perfect time” person when I try), but I’ve worked enough gigs and club nights to know that houselights kill the mood.

Still, it was a good night and I got into the gig as it progressed. We chatted a bit with a few other folks around the place, and had photos taken by several folks – probably more due to Beth’s costume than mine. In next to no time she’d cobbled together enough garb to thoroughly upstage me, as usual! Still, I’m not about to compain about having a girlfriend who regularly looks far better than I do!

Driving

However, Beth was only a day member of the convention. Which meant she had to get home after the ball or she’d turn into a pumpkin, or something. So the ball ended for us when we reached the point where I wasn’t going to be awake enough to drive her home and then get myself back to the Hotel. The drive was an enlightening one… It usually takes about 25-30 minutes. But if I do it at around half one in the morning, it takes about 10-12 minutes. I was back at the hotel around 2am, but the sudden fresh air outside and the drive had done for me… so I retreated to bed.

Thus ended Eastercon day 3 for me.

Odyssey 2010 – Day 2

In The Morning…

Breakfast

My plan for the weekend involved avoiding any form of healthy diet, and instead stuffing my face at breakfast, having a snacky lunch and then eating another full meal in the evening. So I set about this plan with gusto… grabbing a pile of fried everything from the breakfast buffet, followed by a couple of slices of toast & jam, then a bowl of fruit. Coupled with several glasses of orange juice from a dispenser that seemed to have been designed specifically to be just a little bit to small for the glasses next to it. As hotel breakfasts go, it wasn’t amazing, but given the low room rate and the sheer number of people eating in a short time I didn’t mind too much. There was still bacon, after all, so all was good.

I sat on a table with several friendly folks and one suitably grumpy older gent – I’d like to apologise to those people for not being a bit more sociable and conversational. My social-interaction-brain was running on a low ebb for much of the weekend, and at that point it hadn’t even tried to boot up for the day yet! My day-to-day function brain was also still not exactly on top form either, as it hadn’t occurred to me to tie my hair back before eating. Thankfully, my hair was still a bit damp from my morning shower, so it hadn’t yet gained full sentience either and so refrained from leaping out to strangle passers by and pick up random objects.

Panel: 2000AD and its influence

Alastair Reynolds, Mike Carey and David Bishop.

I thought that two guests of honour (one of whom I wouldn’t have associated with 2000AD at all) and an ex-tharg ought to make for an interesting panel, and I wasn’t wrong. It was quite a rambling discussion, but an interesting one from three people who had either been fans for a long time, had written for or worked on the comic or a mix of “all of the above”. Alastair Reynolds had also brought along a couple of 1970s 2000AD annuals, which looked to be in remarkably good condition!

Guest of Honour Interview: Iain M Banks

Interviewer: Jane Killick

Iain M Banks is one of those odd authors who I’ve never really got a handle on. I’ve read a lot of his work, and really enjoy a fair amount of it… yet for some reason, it never occurs to me to store his name in the “authors I like” bucket in my memory. I have no idea why, as I do like his books and probably should pay more attention so I’ll at least notice when he’s got a new book out.

In this instance, however, it was just entertaining to sit and listen to him speak as he was interviewed very effectively by Jane Killick. Hearing about his approach to writing and research, my desire to be an author once again started to kick in. It soulds like the kind of life I could get used to… although I suspect I’d need to grow a bit more willpower to actually make me knuckle under and get on with the actual writing. Who am I kidding – I’d need to grow any willpower at all. At the moment if I was to try to write professionally, I’d never get anywhere!

A particular highlight was his explanation of the voices in his head when he was stepping away from science fiction for the mere convenience of actually getting published. Another was his “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock” T-shirt, but then I’m easily amused!

Bad Science – Ben Goldacre

I really wanted to like Ben Goldacre. In both print and pixels I like his work – he’s got a good and important message to get across and he usually puts things succinctly and clearly. But as a speaker I just couldn’t warm to him. I have no real idea why – there was nothing wrong with his talk that I could put my finger on… I just didn’t warm to him.

So I skipped out for my ubiquitious Odyssey lunch – burger with cheese & fried onions in a curiously greasy bun.

In the afternoon…

George Hay Memorial Lecture – Oliver Morton – Geoengineering

Having devoured my burger, I ducked back in to the main hall for the George Hay Memorial Lecture. Every year since the year 2000, there has been one programme item delivered on a serious scientific topic, presented by somebody working in that field. This year’s session was delivered by Oliver Morton, who, as far as I can tell, is a writer and editor specialising in technology, how it creates change and how we interact with it. He describes his books (“Mapping Mars” and “Eating the Sun”) as Non-Fiction Science Fiction – which intrigues me.

I’m not going to even try to condense his talk down to bitesize chunks, except to say that he meandered in an interesting fashion around the topics of nuclear detonations, climate, clouds and how they might be changed. Mostly, the talk focussed on the idea of the sublime, and it’s not really a talk that I think can or even should be summarised. I know the session was recorded, so hopefully it’ll appear online in some fashion at some point.

Panel – Writers and The Web – Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, etc…

Joe Abercrombie, John Meaney, Maura McHugh (Moderator), Mark Charan Newton

This was another slightly rambling panel which held my interest in some ways but not others – the focus ended up being more on if authors getting into blogging is a good thing and how engaged they ought to get with their readers. I’d only heard of one of the people on the panel (Joe Abercrombie – whose books I keep meaning to read but have yet to actually do so), but the others are also now on my Radar.

Whilst I’m sure the main topics did form a central point for the discussion to orbit around, I think it ended up being mostly an entertaining viewpoint into the personalities of the folks on the panel. Which is no bad thing.

Cabaret and Masquerade – Tech Runthrough

At this point, I made the mistake of going near the main hall tech whilst having knowledge about lighting. I’d previously offered to loan Tech my lighting controller and a laptop with appropriate software to drive it, as I thought this might make things easier for the masquerade and cabaret, so I popped by to see if they wanted it. However, I ended up doing so at the exact moment that Barndoor needed a hand to finish some focussing before heading off to do something else. As a result, I was handed a bunch of lighting cuesheets (most of which effectively said “make there be some lights”) and ended up being the lighting guy for the masquerade and cabaret.

I didn’t get time to swap out the desks before the masquerade runthrough started, so I just scribbled some notes on what would be needed for each item and tested them as we went along. At the same time that we were doing that, I fired up the laptop, hooked up the USB DMX Contoller, fired up QLC (open source software to control it) and started to program in the shape of the rig and the settings that were needed for each of the masquerade items. Once we’d run through the masquerade acts, of which there were between six and eight at any given moment, I dropped the lights to blackout and swapped out the desk. A quick test revealed that my programming worked fine and that everything was now being controled by the laptop, which was handy.

We then ran through all of the cabaret acts. I have no idea how many of those there were, or what any of them were doing. I was handed the cue sheets as we started the run through, so I didn’t really have time to plan anything – so it was all a little bit on the fly. In the end I had several scened programmed in – one for each maquerade act, one for houselights, one for the MC, a couple for specific cabaret acts and a couple of general cabaret plots. I’d have preferred to have done more, but that was enough for now. It seemed to do the job.

At this point, I settled down into my spot atop the tech tower for what was coming next…

Evening…

Doctor Who – The Eleventh Hour

There are very few expe
riences like watching the first episode with a new Doctor with a few hundred other SF fans. Even if I was watching it whilst crammed into the corner of the top of the tech tower. Not the most comfortable viewing position in the world, but at least I had a clear view!

Personally, I loved it. I’m something of a heretic in that I didn’t actually rate David Tennant’s Doctor that much. When he was good, he was really good… but there seemed to be some confusion in his episodes between emotion and intesity and, well, just shouting and gurning. I think mostly it was a problem with scripts and direction, but overall I ended up just not being that impressed.

This time out, though… I think Matt Smith nailed it. He instantly stood out to me as a good and interesting doctor. Clearly drawing on several earlier doctors (particularly Troughton, I thought) but in a way that made it his own. Coupled with a good companion who wasn’t just a cardboard cutout and a fine starting story, I think it just worked. I was hopeful that this would be the case, and was very glad not to be disappointed.

The Masquerade and Cabaret

I’m not going to say much about the acts themselves, as a lot of the time I didn’t really get to see them properly – I was too busy reading cue sheets and trying to keep up with rapid changes. Suffice to say that the quality of acts was high and entertaining. I’m also pretty sure I only missed one cue – and that was due to what was happening on stage bearing no relation to what was written on my cue sheet or what had happened in the runthrough! There were a few other instances where I hit cues that the acts had pre-empted or missed, but nothing particularly glaring.

I was happy to call it a success, anyway. I’d highly recommend to tech that they have a programmable controller of some kind (I’m a big fan of the EntTec Open DMX USB and a laptop running QLC) next time, as running that on a manual board would have been a nightmare! There were simply too many lighting cues too tightly together to be able to set the faders between them. Provided it’s still functional, I’m happy to loan out the USB DMX interface at eastercons that I’m at, but can’t really loan a laptop to put the software on!

Drinking and Crashing Out

There were other programme items I had been tempted by… but the main thing on the cards was the New Romantics Disco. Whilst I’m sure I’d have appreciated some of the music, I’m not much of a dancer. Or any of a dancer, really. Except possibly the spare left foot of a dancer who’s already got one too many.

So instead I went to hang out at the bar, hoping for a couple of pints of Old Rosie. Unfortunately, the usual situation had occurred with decent ciders… Everyone who normally drinks beer sees that there’s something they don’t recognise, and so tries it. They find that it’s a delicious proper cider, and so they keep drinking it, as do the cider drinkers. Then it runs out and the beer drinkers go back to their beer, leaving the cider drinkers with the bottled horse wee that is Magners. Oh well.

I hung around chatting with some of Gav & Cal’s friends (that’s the elder sibling and his girlfriend, for those who are unaware) for a while, consuming the odd pint here or there. Eventually, though, my back realised that I’d either been standing, climing ladders or sat on a scaff bar since about 2pm… and so it declared that it was downing tools until I addressed its needs. Since a back is a useful thing to have, I retreated to a warm bath followed by bed.

Thus ended the second day of Odyssey 2010 for me.

Odyssey 2010 – Day 1

Early Days

Arrival

Somehow, at around 9:20am, I was actually ready to get started. Which was odd, because that was exactly what I’d planned – I usually expect to either be running late, or (more usually) to actually be ready a good half hour or so before I need to set off, leaving myself with nothing to do. Since things were going to plan, I headed round to pick up TheMadOne, who I was driving to what would be his first Eastercon.

Upon arriving at the Radisson Non-Euclidean I went to see if my room was ready, and was told “1 hour”. So we registered and then started scouring the programme grid, whilst waiting for a few IFIS folk to arrive.

Tech

Of course, having also volunteered to assist with lighting setup, I thought I’d better go and see if they needed a hand… and immediately spent the next hour or so putting colour into lanterns. They already had somebody there who’d got a plan (going by the name of Barndoor), and it was a good one, so I basically just did what was needed rather than trying to steer anything in any particular direction.

After a bit of doing that, I headed out to catch up with TheMadOne again and get checked in to my room. The catching up bit worked, but the checking in bit didn’t – the room still wasn’t ready. This time they told me 45 minutes. Conveniently, the IFIS crowd arrived (consisting of Flick, Mohammed and Noah, with Patric already present for the weekend), having decided to come and attend for just the Friday. Probably not the best day to aim for if you’re only around for the one day, but the one they chose… so fair enough. We’ll try to get some of them for longer in future.

For me, it was time to go back for tech… which this time meant clambering up the tech tower and driving the desk whilst Barndoor focussed things appropriately. There were a few test plottings thrown about to get the stage lit and looking passable, after which we called it a day on lighting setup. This was my cue to go and actually get on with the convention proper – checking in, chatting and going to programme items.

Getting with the Programme

For me, Friday’s programme contained the following items:

  • Alien Archaeology (which I fled early)
  • Writing Steampunk (which I joined a little late)
  • SF – Taking TV shows from TV to audio
  • UK vs. US TV – Which side of the pond makes better television?
  • Opening Ceremony
  • It’s Shit but we like it – Crap TV & film
  • La Menace Vient De L’Espace (film)

I mixed all of that lot in with some eating and some socialising with my Brother (blufive), his girlfriend (calatrice), my nephew Alex and (when our paths crossed) socialising with IFIS folks.

I’ll expand on a couple of the high points below… this doesn’t mean the rest was crap, just that I can’t think of anything meaningful to say about them in this context!

Writing Steampunk

Moderated by Stephen Hunt (author of “Court of The Air”, etc…), the rest of this panel also consisted of Kim Lakin-Smith, Paul Skevington and Alastair Reynolds, whose latest book (Terminal World) has steampunk leanings… All in all an interesting panel, dwellng on a whole range of topics, starting with the decline of the “punk” part of the genre name and the rise of the tendency to add “punk” to the end of anything to make it into a genre and moving, through the idea of divisions between steampunk and dieselpunk, then on to the idea of steam being the last accessible technology.

The latter of those is one that interests me because while steam power has the appearance of being something that anybody can understand… it’s not quite that simple. There’s not many folks out there who’d be able to build a multiple expansion steam engine, or even understand the operation of one… but you can see it working. You can look at it and see bits move. Modern tech, you can’t see things move the same way… but it’s still accessible in it’s own way with just a bit of knowledge and a few tools. The growing hacker/maker community out there can attest to that – people who, for the sake of it, pull modern tech apart and do weird things with it. Curiously, there’s also something of a crossover between steampunk enthusiasts and hackers and makers… I guess it’s just about loving the idea of being in control of technology rather than the other way around.

Another interesting point raised, but not covered in much detail as it crossed into the topic of another panel was the similarity between scientific romance and steampunk. Where does one end and the other start? In effect, both tend to be hypothesized alternate futures, extrapolated from victorian steam power. The difference in those cases is merely the time and environment in which they were written. It’s an interesting idea, and one that I’d have quite like to have heard more discussion on, as I couldn’t make the other panel.

Right near the end, the guy who was running sound for the panel (in fantastic steampunk garb) recommended the anime “Last Exile” – a recommendation I would like to second very firmly. It’s a bit more dieselpunk than steampunk, but still thoroughly awesome. Interested folks can see the opening sequence on youtube.

SF – Taking Shows From TV to Audio

This panel was moderated by Maura McHugh, and otherwise made up of Nickey Barnard, David Bishop, James Swallow and Rob Shearman. Amongst that crowd there was a lot of experience from adapting Judge Dredd, Sapphire and Steel, Blakes 7 and Doctor Who into audio form, amongst others.

I own a few Big Finish productions of Sapphire and Steel and I have the first three reimagined audio dramas of Blakes 7, and have generally enjoyed audio dramas for a long time… I’ve also considered getting into making audio dramas or audio books myself on a strictly amateur basis. Some of the comments in this panel about the freedom of audio remind me of part of why I like this kind of thing – there’s a lot of creative freedom when you don’t have to represent anything visually. Likewise, some of the comments gave me good advice about what works and what doesn’t – small casts, simple and clear stories and situations.

If I ever do get around to writing or recording some audio drama, I think I might actually do a better job after this panel, even though I wouldn’t be working with established settings or characters.

It’s Shit But We Like It – Crap TV & Film

I can remember so little detail from this increasingly raucous and unstructured panel – but in broad strokes it could best be described as a cavalcade of entertaining toss. There was some discussion of what was and was not shit, but mostly it was just a barrage of audience members bouncing out their guilty pleasures for everyone to hear.

I refrained from mentioning my own favourite cinematic turd – “Wizards of the Lost Kingdom” – because a) it’s not well known enough for anybody else to really grasp the atrocity and b) the reason I like it isn’t because I enjoy watching it, but because I enjoy watching other people watching it… it’s hilarious! Next time, I shall bring a DVD to the con.

La Menace Vient De L’Espace

A fantastic short film. It’s a french film, although it’s in two spoken languages – French and Prot
ocole 123, which is a numerical language. It’s incredibly funny on many levels. Spelling and language are being replaced by a method of numerical communication called Protocole 123, until an opponent of that change is killed. The film follows the investigation of that murder.

Overnight

This took me up to around 12:30am. That’s pretty early for a convention night, but after a full week of work and a fairly full day, I thought it was time to call it a night. The room was good and comfortable, and after a wash, a bit of time on the ‘net an a bit of a read, I nodded off without any trouble.

When I get some time, I’ll write up the following days of the convention as well.

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